MINNEAPOLIS, MN (May 10, 2018) –High school science teacher Gordon Corbett was one of the finalists to participate in NASA’s new “Teacher in Space” program in 1986. He was at the Kennedy Space Center when the Challenger, carrying contest winner Christa McAuliffe, lifted off—and exploded 73 seconds later, killing everyone on board.
At the time Nancy Cripe was a new high school science teacher. She had been inspired by Corbett, who was her “innovative, passionate, and infectious” instructor. That day she watched him weeping on TV as he was interviewed and wondered aloud how he could go on teaching his students that space was the future.
In spite of that tragedy, Corbett continued to instill passion for science in his students for several more decades.
Last August, 51 years after the Challenger tragedy, a gas leak caused an explosion at Minnehaha Academy, killing two people and injured others. At the time of the explosion, Cripe, who teaches science at the school operated by the Covenant’s Northwest Conference, was in the computer lab.
Corbett saw the news and called Cripe. In the ensuing months he drew on his own experience to help her “move forward,” she writes in an article in the StarTribune, published as part of National Teacher Appreciation week.
She had relied on his words and example several years earlier when she co-mentored Minnehaha’s student team that developed and built an experiment to be carried out on the International Space Station. The experiment was destroyed in 2015 when the unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying it exploded shortly after launch.
“Dealing with that disaster, I could hear Mr. Corbett’s voice,” Cripe writes. “It is our destiny to fly. Space exploration isn’t safe, but it’s essential. Rebuild.”
Last month Cripe welcomed Corbett to her class. He taught her students in the same way that had inspired her. At a chapel service he told the students, “Some of you will go on to become teachers—you just don’t know it yet. You will touch the future. And that’s a very big responsibility and an awesome challenge and a great honor.”